South Korean Ferry Disaster Update: At Least 64 Dead, President Equates Crew's Actions To Murder; Transcript From Sewol’s Final Broadcasts Reveals Escape Was ‘Impossible’

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  • South Korea Ferry Rescue_Sewol
    South Korean rescue workers operate near floats where the capsized passenger ship Sewol sank, during the search and rescue operation as a giant offshore crane, which will take part in the rescue operation, is seen in the background in the sea off Jindo on April 21, 2014.
  • ferry
    Maritime police search for missing passengers in front of the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank near the island of Jindo on Wednesday.
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Update as of 12:10 a.m. EDT: South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Monday that the actions of the captain and crew of the ferry, which sank last week leaving at least 64 dead, amounted to murder, Reuters reported, adding that four more arrests were made, taking the number of people held in connection to seven.

"Above all, the conduct of the captain and some crew members is unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense, and it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated," Park said during a meeting with aides, Reuters reported, citing a Yonhap news agency report. Witnesses have reportedly accused the captain and his crew of deserting the sinking ship ahead of the passengers. 

Captain Lee Joon-seok and two crew members were arrested last week on negligence charges, according to Reuters. On Monday, prosecutors announced the arrests of two first mates, one second mate and a chief engineer. Most of the dead in the accident are school children and 238 people are missing and presumed dead.

A newly released transcript of the communication between the sinking South Korean ferry and the Jindo coast guard reveals confusion aboard the Sewol.

The transcript, made public by the South Korean government on Sunday and translated by CNN, could help investigators piece together the events that led to the ferry capsizing and sinking, and pulling hundreds of passengers down with it.  

In an excerpt from the South Korean ferry’s transmission Wednesday morning with a traffic control center in Jeju, the ship’s destination, an unidentified Sewol crew member says to “notify the coast guard” because “the ship is rolling right now.”

“Cannot move,” the crew member states. “Please come quickly. We're next to Byeongpung Island.”

When the coast guard asks the Sewol whether or not any of the passengers are hurt, the crew member says it’s “impossible to confirm” because the boat had tilted too far over for people to move. A traffic control center operator then instructs the crew member to get everyone to put on life vests and prepare to abandon ship.

About 15 minutes later, the coast guard informs the Sewol that they are reaching out to nearby fishing boats for assistance.

“Please approach as quick as possible,” the operator tells the crew person. “Please actively cooperate in rescue operation. ... Are the passengers able to escape?”

“The ship listed too much so it is impossible,” the crew member responds.

To read the entire transcript, click here.

During the correspondence, the crew member’s main concern remained whether there were any vessels nearby that could pick people up once they were in the water. The boat’s captain, Lee Joon-seok, later appeared on television and explained that he delayed evacuating the ferry because he feared the passengers would drift away.

"The current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold, and I thought that if people left the ferry without proper judgment, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties,” the captain said.

The vessel carrying 475 passengers and crew, including 340 students and teachers from the Danwon High School in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul, capsized on Wednesday. It took just two hours for the South Korean ferry to sink.

While 179 passengers were rescued, the remaining 296 were unaccounted for immediately after the ferry sank. Several bodies have been recovered from the sunken South Korean ferry, bringing the official death toll as of Sunday to 58. Rescue workers say there is little chance of there being any other survivors.  

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